SpaceX Starlink satellites glowing in the sky prove problematic for astronomers

Elon Musk replies to astronomer concerns saying Starlink constellation is going to do good for billions of people.


Last week, Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched the first batch of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit. These are the first of the 12,000 Starlink satellites to be launched to provide global internet coverage from space.

But there were only a handful in a world that foresaw what was coming next: a flurry of "UFO sightings" that followed the launch. One Dutch website, in particular, was flooded with posts about a "train of light" moving at a constant speed. Astronomer Marco Langbroek from the Netherlands captured a video of the string of satellites and it went viral.

However, after the excitement calmed down, astronomers both professional and amateur seem to have concerns about the Starlink constellation obstructing their view of space and all its mysteries.

 SpaceX Starlink satellites glowing in the sky prove problematic for astronomers

Train of Starlink satellites visible in the night sky seen in this video captured by satellite tracker Marco Langbroek in Leiden, the Netherlands on 24 May, a day after SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites on a Falcon 9 rocket. Image credit: Marco Langbroek via SatTrackBlog

Celestial events can take place in space can either over a long period of time or in the blink of an eye. To observe and capture them, astronomers need to make careful calculations and find a perfect viewing spot.  The satellites might have followed a straight and predictable path in the sky, but 12,000 such brightly-lit satellites could be a colossal distraction to the stargazing and astronomy community. Imagine brightly-lit trains moving chaotically why you're out in the Savannah to quietly observe a pack of tigers.

And while Elon Musk is the first, he is definitely not going to be the last. Jeff Bezos’ Amazon has already stated that they are working on a Project Kuiper that will launch 3,236 satellites into space to provide internet. There are many other companies that are vying for that piece of the pie.

Astronomers believe that if the Earth’s orbit is going to be crowded and cluttered with all these satellites, viewing space will be problematic. But Musk, unfazed by the #MuskRuinsDusk tweets that swept through Twitter, doesn't seem to think it'll be a problem at all.

Astronomers continue to hope for some kind of regulation to limit the numbers of these satellites and rules to take care of the ocean of space debris still posing threats in orbit. SpaceX’s satellites aren't meant to be in Earth's orbit forever — they will fall back on Earth after a span of five years, burning up in the atmosphere on their way down.

Another issue that astronomers are facing is the light from these satellites, which is blinding. This is an additional obstruction when observing the nightsky with sensitive instruments.

Darren Baskill, an astronomer at the University of Sussex told The Guardian, "Everyone’s quite surprised by how bright they are. I live on the outskirts of Brighton in light-polluted skies and I could easily see this line of satellites going across the sky."

Elon Musk took to Twitter to answer questions and allay the doubts of the people. Posting a picture of a Google search, he talks about how no one notices the estimated 4,900 satellites that are currently in orbit. He also mentions moving telescopes that orbit.

Musk spoke about the greater good that his satellites will be accomplishing by providing internet access to billions of people.

In response to the claim that his satellites are too bright, Musk has asked his scientists to finds ways to diminish the reflectivity Earthways.

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